“What Are You?” Multiracial Identity and the Persistence of Racism in a “Post-Racial” Society

“What Are You?” Multiracial Identity and the Persistence of Racism in a “Post-Racial” Society

University of Virginia

Hephzibah Virginia Strmic-Pawl

In 2000, and for the first time, the U.S. Census allowed individuals to “mark one or more” races, and now the U.S. Census projects that those who choose two or more races will triple by 2050. The occurrence of the “biracial baby boom,” a new post-racial ideology, and the election of the first Black (or biracial depending on one’s categorization) U.S. president have led to great hopes for a nation where race no longer matters.

On the other hand, there is persistent discrimination including wide disparities in education, wealth, and employment. Thus, does multiracialism signify that society’s race relations are improving and that we are deconstructing racial categories and racism? Or, does multiracialism naively overlook the continuing vestiges of race and racism and merely reify “race” in efforts to defend the recognition and experiences of those who are “mixed race?”

Through a study of 70 people of mixed-race descent, I seek an answer to this debate. I ask: how does multiracial identity manifest itself and align with and/or contest the current racial hierarchy? I find 67 of the 70 respondents do prefer a multiracial identity, a preference that reveals the coherence of multiracialism and its ability to challenge the racial hierarchy. Yet, much of this dissertation is dedicated to the differences in experiences of Asian-Whites and Black-Whites. The majority of the Asian-Whites have close White friends and networks, have few experiences and perceptions of racism, and have a color-blind approach to racism. By comparison, BlackWhites are more likely to be aligned with Black networks and Blackness, experience and perceive racism to be a significant problem, and expend significant effort navigating their race.

This project, then, has two main findings: 1) those of mixed-race descent are choosing to identify with both races and 2) the continuing significance of race and racism leads to markedly different narratives for those of Asian and White descent compared to those of Black and White descent. Thus, multiracialism has validity yet is limited in its ability to move the discussion forward on race, for it relies on race in order to defy race.

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